So You Are Unemployed, or What?

Branka ValcicMy Journey4 Comments

You know how I quit my regular job and this time didn’t want to get another one lest that put me back on the hamster wheel? The kicker is that by putting myself out of the wheel and getting myself off the single career track, I’ve also placed myself outside of most recognizable boxes Croatian bureaucracy and a large part of society needs to put me in.

This is a good thing, yes?

Why are there times then when I feel rotten about it?

At a Croatian police office where I go to register my new residence, a helpful clerk tries to sort out my case in an online database system.

“What is your profession?” is one of the first questions she asks, right after what’s your name.

I hesitate.

“What are the choices?” I ask.

And why does this matter??? I ask, but in my mind only.

Predictably, a pull down menu shows a couple of dozen or so professions that have been around for a long time like doctor, lawyer, clerk, construction worker and such. I cannot find myself in any of them. To hurry things up (people in line behind me are already rolling their eyes and muttering comments), I go with my ex-profession: Docent (Assistant Professor in the USA, Lecturer in the UK).

I look up a definition of profession later on. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines profession as “a principal calling, vocation, or employment”. Hmm, so what if you don’t have a principal but two or three equally principal callings? And what if you are not employed but you are also not unemployed? This is possible you know; I am a case in point.

Someone I just recently met asked me: “So what do you do?”

“Oh, all kinds of things. I write, I tend to my garden, I …” I start.

“No, no, I mean as a job,” she cuts me off impatiently.

“I don’t have a job per se,” I say.

“Ah, unemployed then,” she desperately tries to put me in a box.

“No,” I say coldly.

The woman looks at me for a few moments, then to my relief gives up completely.

It is 2:30 pm. The sun is shining and through the open window a breeze brings a scent of the sea. I smile. I will soon take my puppy for a walk. I have already tended to my garden, which will hopefully provide my family and me food soon, I worked on one of my research projects, I wrote, which some day will hopefully earn me money, and I painted with my son, which needs no explanation. Being off the hamster wheel makes me extremely productive. And creative. And satisfied.

So why do I sometimes feel so unworthy?

Let’s see… I don’t fit into the Croatian system. OK, but I sort of knew this already. Most people in Croatia judge me. Well, that’s nothing new, I am used to it. So what is all this about?

And then it hits me. It is me! I am judging me! I have been programmed for so long to believe that I am only worthy if I have a regular job, if I am climbing the ladder, if I am succeeding. No matter if all that meant not seeing my family, being a bitch most of the time, and destroying my body while sitting at the computer for hours on end.

A challenge then!

The world is moving on. Soon many of the current professions will be dinosaurs. As I write this, people are inventing new hybrid ‘professions’. It is time I moved on too. So long ridiculous online systems and forms! So long ladies who want to box me up! From today on I promise not to judge myself for not having a regular job, a profession, a vocation or however you want to call it. Perhaps next time I go change my residence, the form will be different. And perhaps the lady who wants to box me up will next time recognize my unorthodox ‘things I do’ as worthy. Probably not. But then again, who cares?

4 Comments on “So You Are Unemployed, or What?”

  1. Several years ago I left one career and had no idea when I would next be employed or how/when I would next earn an income. I was fortunate to be able to support myself for a few years and gave myself that time to explore. Many times I came up against those boxes and lists and people who ask, usually straight away, ‘so what do you do’? Like you, I began to really resent that question as I realised how I had let it/my so-called achievements define me up to that point. I finally came up with a very simple answer that usually invited no more questions: ‘I live Life’ (or, more accurately, Life lives me, but I didn’t usually reply with that order of words). Once, as I answered this question, I was in the company of a good friend who knew me well – I had been asked the question by a friend of hers who had just met me. When I responded with the usual ‘I live Life’, the friend who knew me said, half jokingly, but mostly irritably, ‘shut up Ruth’. I didn’t say anything else but the force of her reaction made me realise how uncomfortable I made other people feel by not fitting into the ‘what do you do’ box – uncomfortable perhaps because I reminded them of an inner voice calling to them to ‘live Life’ too, in whatever form that might take for them (which might not necessarily involving not being employed). By stepping out of the system and letting Life live us, we reflect uncomfortable truths, both to ourselves and to others. It’s not easy, but it is worth it, because the alternative (going back) is not an alternative anymore….

  2. The privilege of lifestyle choice is usually associated to renters or end of a long and busy life. Ordinary mortals have to work for a living. I’m glad that now days smart young people can think and live out of the box. I salute you, Branka and Ruth, go and live your wonderful lifes!

  3. here here!! I too face these questions and boxes on a farily regular basis and thanks to Ruth i have at least one answer now rather than the tongue tied fumbled I currently end up in. I see it is me who needs to define me and then what another thinks matters not, and yet still knowing this I still end up compromising, minimizing, inventing things about what I do and how I spend my time. Food for thought, thank you. X

    1. Thanks, Mairi. Letting go of everything this past year, which naturally first broke the house down but then started to yield unexpected gifts, has truly been extraordinary for understanding better who I am and what I want. For more insights on my end, see my more recent post – Journeying. X

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